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McKinley Theater

2218 S Jefferson

Once a local theater famous for its rooftop garden and summer-time photoplays, 2218 S Jefferson has since been home to everything from auto parts supply shops to furniture stores. Amidst construction, the theater vibes were palpable in elements like the gently sloped floors and expansive ceilings. The end result is three efficient retail storefronts and seven artist studios, complementing neighboring complex at 2222 S Jefferson.

If you shopped for midcentury furniture in St. Louis between 2014 and 2021, there’s a good chance you experienced a glimmer of theater history without even knowing it. Local shop SoJeffRetro (now on Cherokee) filled this cavernous space with treasures from the 1960s and 1970s, but the building’s history extends many decades beyond that stylish era.

Built in 1909, the McKinley theater was one of St. Louis’ few women-run moving picture houses. Mrs. Bernada Klinger started as a cashier and worked her way up to a managerial role and made the space her own. A 1915 edition of Moving Picture World remarked that the McKinley had “the only roof garden in St. Louis, or perhaps in this part of the state” and that it was “one of the most attractive little theaters in the country.” Mrs. Klinger used that charming rooftop to her full advantage, even inviting customers up to the space for screenings of carefully curated films during the summer months.

Decades of various occupants and their respective uses have left a hodge-podge patchwork of materials, textures, and finishes. Blue paint on an interior wall hints at a past staircase leading to a former room of an unusual height. East-facing windows were haphazardly infilled with concrete blocks. Intricate wood archways on the north wall remain a mysterious addition to an otherwise industrial surface. Not to mention what may be the weirdest and worst-built bathroom we’ve ever seen.

Yet a number of intriguing original or historic architectural features remain. Square mosaic tile floors on the western portion of the building are remarkably undisturbed, and the facade itself retains its three distinct bays. For the first time in likely a century, the building is faced with a complete and purposeful renovation and restoration that will contribute to the ever-improving South Jefferson strip and Canyon Run Complex.

Renovation plans call for subdividing this expansive building into ten efficient spaces – three storefronts at the front, and seven artist studios at the rear. Each of the storefronts will measure roughly 600+/- square feet and feature 13’6″ ceilings, original tile, and new everything – HVAC, electrical, roofing, bathrooms, and more. The studios are sized at about 300 square feet each and offer concrete floors, communal restrooms, bike storage, a utility sink, and secured entry via mobile credentials. Three of the seven will also have natural light, as the aforementioned infilled windows are returned to their intended state.

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